Author: Kimberly N. Powell, DDS, MS

The United States Department of Health and Human Services classified obesity as a disease in 2004. A Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30.0 or higher falls within the obese range according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity is a serious health condition that can increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, and certain cancers. In dentistry, an obese patient may find the simplest activity uncomfortable. The dental chair may be constricting, so armrests are adjusted to increase comfort. The clinical dental staff are aware of the demands dentistry can pose on a patient during treatment. Recognizing this for the obese patient aids in customizing their dental visit by assisting them to sit up, offering frequent breaks as breathing can be challenging in the reclined position, transferring them in and out of the dental chair, and seating them in an operatory closest to the reception area to limit the distance the patient has to walk. It can be uncomfortable for anyone when personal space is invaded, even more in a dental setting. For the obese patient, this space is likely more compromised as inadvertent body contact can occur and be a cause of embarrassment. A discussion with the patient in the presence of the assistant is necessary to avoid misinterpretation of touching that occurs during normal dental procedures such as transferring of instruments, suctioning, etc. Recognizing the different health conditions of patients and knowing how to modify treatment for their benefit helps to provide superior care for the patient physically and emotionally.